Earl Mitchell acquainted Miami to his motor in the second preseason game, when he chased Buccaneers quarterback Josh McCown across the field and out of bounds.
Four years earlier, he made a play that was even more impressive — particularly for a guy who usually plays in the trenches.
Mitchell, then a nose tackle for the Houston Texans, caught running back Cowboys running back Felix Jones from behind — more than 30 yards downfield. And here’s the capper: He was on the field for the very next play, and made the tackle.
“I was just so hyped,” Mitchell said. “I couldn’t believe how fast I was moving. I was passing everyone. I could see myself closing in. It was a long play for them but at the same time, I’m sure no one wants to get caught by the nose tackle.”
Teams better get used to it. His playing time — and presumably, production — will only increase in Miami. Mitchell signed a four-year deal with the Dolphins early in free agency. Already, Joe Philbin is acting like it’s money well-spent.
“I like everything he’s done since the day he’s gotten here, to be quite honest with you,” Philbin said. “He’s a football player through and through. He comes out to the practice field every single day and works his tail off. He’s a good guy in the locker room.
“He works on the fundamentals, good person, really high on him.”
Just how high? Mitchell is the only defensive tackle to start all three exhibition games. Playing a position that is as much about setting up for others as it is making plays, Mitchell has five tackles this preseason in just 44 snaps.
After the Dolphins’ win Saturday against the Cowboys, Philbin showed footage of Mitchell’s shared tackle with Jason Trusnik, highlighting his perfect technique.
The Dolphins signed Mitchell to replace Paul Soliai on the defensive line, leaving some to wonder if they have given up size in the run game. Soliai, who played mostly in base situations last year, has 35 pounds on Mitchell.
But Mitchell’s tackle of Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray on Saturday night in the htird exhbition game should go a long way toward allaying those fears. He slipped a block and all but swallowed Murray whole. The play went for no gain.
“We knew what we were up against,” said Mitchell, a fifth-year player out of Arizona. “They tried to establish the run, and we knew what we were up against.
“A lot of people were [questioning] our run-stopping ability. I really take pride in that. I don’t want to see guys trying to run the ball on us.”
The Cowboys, for the most part, did not. The Dolphins kept Dallas to less than under 100 yards and allowed just 3.8 yards per carry.
Miami’s tackling, which wasn’t great in the exhibition opener, has improved the past two weeks. Mitchell hasn’t missed one yet as a Dolphin.
Part of the reason for his success: The Dolphins have him back playing his natural position. A true (and probably undersized) nose tackle in Houston, Mitchell now plays in the 4-3, usually lining up between the center and guard. He can, and does, play both positions on the interior line, however.
“It’s totally different having to just shoot a gap,” Mitchell said. “You get to work moves, and you get to work basically a chess match against guards, and you get to work rushes. It’s completely different.”
Mitchell could play in the 4-6 and his mind-set probably wouldn’t change. He’s high-energy, high-effort all the time — which has made him the target of some good-natured ribbing by his new teammates. But it has also made them up their game.
“I’ve been the backup for three years when I was in Houston,” Mitchell said. “At the same time, I just want to be a productive part of this team. That’s what my main focus is. As long as I’m doing that, I’m really happy with whatever role I have on this team.”